Engineering of Consent
Uncovering Corporate PR Strategies

Corner House Briefing 06

by Judith Richter

first published 31 March 1998


Corporations use public relations techniques to limit campaigns against the socially-irresponsible or environmentally-destructive practices of transnational companies. Taking the infant food industry as a case study, this briefing discusses the risks of ‘dialogue’ with company or industry organizations.



Judith Richter would like to thank Patti Rundall and Mike Brady of Baby Milk 1Action UK; Alison Linnecar and Judith Philipona of GIFA (Geneva Infant Feeding Association/IBFAN); and Sarah Sexton and Nicholas Hildyard from the Corner House for all their assistance in the research and writing of this paper. IBFAN's financial contribution towards some of the printing costs is gratefully acknowledged.


"NGOs have to be taken seriously, and dialogue rather than confrontation offers the best avenue."

"Major progress in improving infant nutrition and child health will only be achieved if all concerned sectors -- governments, industry, health professionals and researchers -- work together."1

One of the major challenges facing citizen groups campaigning to prevent, minimise, limit or regulate socially-irresponsible or environmentally-degrading practices of transnational corporations (TNCs) is how to deal with the corporations' increasing calls for 'dialogue' and 'cooperation'.

Many TNCs say they have seen the error of their ways and have rectified their mistakes (or at least are in the process of doing so). Eager to do their best for "our common future", they claim to be keen to listen to their critics. Thus 'dialogues' with companies or industry organisations are frequently portrayed as the way ahead for citizen groups seeking corporate accountability, rather than 'confrontational' strategies such as boycotts.

But how are industry critics to know whether, when and how entering into 'dialogue' with corporations will be effective? What are the dangers and limits of doing so?

An answer requires exploring the ways in which calls for 'dialogue' or 'cooperation' have masked attempts to manipulate public debates; to silence or neutralise critics; and to create an image of socially-concerned business. In short, it requires an introduction to contemporary corporate public relations or PR.

Knowledge of corporate PR strategies may help activists and concerned citizens to recognise manipulative strategies and distinguish them from industry behaviour which is truly indicative of change, and thus be in a better position to counter such strategies. Putting the spotlight on this least examined -- because best hidden -- source of corporate power may increase the transparency of public debates on critical issues and allow citizens to recover spaces for democratic decision-making.

Corporate PR - The Art of Camouflage and Deception

What is public relations? Definitions range from fostering "mutual influence and understanding" between the PR practitioners' employer and its various 'publics',2 to practising the "gentle art of letting the other fellow have your way".3 For Alfred Geduldig, a Mobil Oil PR executive, "the point [of PR] is getting people to behave the way you hope they will behave by persuading them that it is ultimately in their interest to do so".4

Otis W. Baskin and Craig E. Aronoff, authors of an authoritative PR textbook, believe that the diversity of public relations and the constant changes in the field make it, at most, a "moving target for definition". They state that "one of the best ways to define public relations is to describe what its practitioners do".5 Finding out what this is, however, is not so easy. As communication scientist Michael Kunczik points out, "public relations is also the art of camouflage and deception".6

Some light may be shed on the question by considering the purpose of a specific PR strategy.7 The purpose depends on the nature of the organisation using PR and why it is doing so. A PR campaign which aims to recruit more donors for a non-profit charity, for instance, will be very different from one motivated by a profit-oriented TNC in response to calls for better regulation of its activities. One benchmark tends to hold true in assessing whether a PR campaign is attempting open, honest and straightforward communication or is using more manipulative strategies: the less that the aims of the campaign are in the interests of the 'target audience', the more hidden and manipulative the PR strategies are likely to be.

The underlying purpose of corporate PR has in fact changed little since it was first developed in the United States last century8 -- to establish and maintain a 'favourable business climate'. According to Baskin and Aronoff:

"[Corporate] PR is a means by which businesses seek to improve their ability to do business. Effective public relations smooths and enhances a company's operations and eases and increases its sales. It enables a business to better anticipate and adapt to societal demands and trends. It is a means by which businesses improve their operating environments".9

Corporate perception of what constitutes a favourable business climate, however, may vary from one era to another, between service and capital intensive industries, between different branches of an industry (for instance, between the pharmaceutical and the chemical industry), and even between different companies of the same branch.

It has become easier over the past 30 years or so for corporate PR to work towards its goal because of the trend towards "increasing concentration of media ownerships in almost all countries ... and the growing commercialisation of broadcast media in Europe".10

Issues Management

A key corporate PR strategy to foster 'favourable business climates' is 'issues management' -- a strategy which was more tellingly and more accurately called 'engineering of consent' in the early 1920s (when corporate PR was called 'corporate propaganda' by its practitioners). The PR techniques to engineer consent were first developed and propagated by Edward Bernays, one of the most influential PR-practitioners and theoreticians. Bernays described engineering of consent as:

"quite simply, the use of an engineering approach -- that is, an action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and the application of scientific principles and tried practices in the task of getting people to support ideas and programmes. Any person or organisation depends ultimately on public approval and is therefore faced with the problem of engineering the public's consent to a programme or goal".11

Issues management, the modern version of engineering of consent, is a similarly pro-active and systematic propaganda campaign based on intelligence gathering and on a thorough assessment of the socio-political situation. Bob Leaf, an executive with major PR company Burson-Marsteller, has said that:

"Companies can't wait for a thing to become an issue and then react. Because then they are on the defensive. The key [is] defining the issues before they can have an impact on you so that you can diffuse them, be prepared to have an action plan when something comes up rather than having to attack hurriedly under an attack."12

Baskin and Aronoff elaborate further:

"Organizations have been blind-sided for too long by protest groups who gain public support by striking public cords through protest and other tactics. To avoid unpleasant surprises, organizations should scan, monitor and track external forces. These forces should be analysed in terms of their effects on an organization's image, profit and ability to act. Based on that analysis, an organization's policy must be developed, strategy planned, and action implemented."13

An Issue to be Managed

The key 'issues' which need to be managed, according to corporate thinking, are "environmentalism, consumerism, unionism, feminism, energy, health and safety, human resources [and] productivity".14 One issue needing management, in the view of some TNCs, has been the international campaign for social accountability of the baby food industry (see Box, p.4). As one of the most long-standing attempts to press for such corporate accountability, this campaign has significantly influenced the development of international issues management.

After the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981, TNCs became concerned about the power of global coalitions of citizens. Not only had such coalitions lobbied at international and national levels for stricter regulation of transnational business; they had also researched and exposed publicly what they considered to be harmful business practices and used consumer boycotts to influence corporate practices.

In August 1980, Nestlé's then vice-president, Ernest Saunders, wrote in a secret memorandum to the company's General Manager, Arthur Fürer:

"In view of the overall propaganda campaign now being mounted through IBFAN [International Baby Food Action Network] and the professionalism of the forces involved, it is always possible that we could even win a battle in the US and lose the war as a result of determined pressure on Third World governments and medical authorities. It is clear that we have an urgent need to develop an effective counter-propaganda operation, with a network of appropriate consultants in key centres, knowledgeable in the technicalities of infant nutrition in developing countries, and with the appropriate contacts to get articles placed".15

Five months later, they had found the person to lead their counter operation: Raphael Pagan Jr., an experienced PR executive, was appointed president of Nestlé's newly-founded Coordination Center for Nutrition. Officially the Center coordinated Nestle's 'nutrition activities' in the United States; Pagan, however, described the Center as a "crisis management task force" which had an "early warning system and political threat analysis capability".16

While working for Nestlé, Pagan spelled out a comprehensive corporate PR strategy for TNCs to fight for corporate 'survival' and to deal "constructively and effectively" with the "international regulatory mood". This strategy included:

  • establishing an issues management unit (such as Nestlé's Coordination Center for Nutrition) with a "responsive, accurate corporate issue and trends warning system and analysis capability";
  • "organizing effective NGOs, and gaining representation for them at every possible UN agency". (By NGOs, Pagan meant generally international business organisations such as the International Council of Infant Food Industries (ICIFI) which subsequently became the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers (IFM);
  • working with national and international civil servants, "not to defeat all regulation, but to create regulation that legitimizes and channels our rights, opportunities and contributions";
  • "allying ourselves to some affirmative popular aspirations in the world so as to be visibly contributing not only to the world's wealth, but to its finding a freer and more open road toward meeting its heart-felt needs than the road offered by the statists or by the no-growth small-is-better redistributionists" while at the same time "reaching out to hold an ongoing dialogue with the many new publics whose understanding we need to remain in business";
  • separating the "fanatic" activist leaders from those who are "decent concerned" people, and "stripping the activists from the moral authority they receive from their alliance with religious organizations".17

After the first Nestlé boycott ended in 1984, Pagan left Nestlé to set up his own consultancy firm which offered services such as "international PA [public affairs], business intelligence, strategic and tactical evaluation, counsel and implementation".18 His clients subsequently included Ciba- Geigy, Union Carbide, Shell Oil and Chevron.19

Engineering of Consent: An Analytical Model

Awareness of Pagan's international issues management strategy facilitates better recognition of the ways in which TNCs and industry business organisations have tried to influence international public interest debates, particularly at the level of the United Nations.20 To gain a broader picture of corporate public relations strategies and techniques, however, particularly of those which attempt to engineer consent, an analytical working model can be useful. This model is based on analysis of actual corporate PR strategies (such as those described in PR textbooks, issues management industry seminars, leaked documents and accounts of activists), blended with insights from theories on communication and power.21

A synthesis of these sources indicates that an engineering of consent or issues management strategy usually has three, sometimes overlapping, components:

  • intelligence gathering and an assessment of the socio-political climate in which the particular company is operating;
  • attempts to manipulate public debates in a direction favourable to the company; and
  • attempts to exclude what the industry perceives as diverging or antagonistic voices from the public debate.

Intelligence Gathering and Assessments

One important PR technique in assessing 'where a company is at' is 'environmental monitoring' which tracks "trends in public opinion and events in the sociopolitical environment" which may affect the company's operations. 'Environmental monitoring' is thus an "early warning system" which helps PR managers to "locate the 'smoke' and take action before a major 'fire' develops".22

Another technique for assessing a company's status is to examine its performance as a 'corporate citizen',23 for instance, the health and environmental effects of its production processes. Companies may invite pressure groups to participate in such a 'social audit', flattering them into believing that, through cooperation, they will have a serious influence on corporate behaviour.

Yet the company involved may have a different goal. As marketing lecturer Craig Smith says:

"Involving pressure groups in ... social audits is a useful way in which the firm might identify and resolve threatening issues in the business environment ... [Firms] are more likely to accept a pressure group's role because of the advantages it may bring."24

Pressure groups are themselves part of the environment which companies must constantly assess: inviting them to participate in 'social audits' is one way of doing so. Other means include infiltrating their organisations, spying on them through journalists, scanning their newsletters and publications, and embarking on corporate philanthropy (also known as sponsorship).25

As a result of such information gathering, public relations professionals have developed data banks on activist and other relevant groups and organisations over the past ten to 15 years. Pagan, for example, advertised his "international business socio-political data base" as the key asset of his consultancy firm, Pagan International.26 While he was working for Nestlé, Pagan developed dossiers on groups such as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU) and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), along with key religious groups and organisations and labour unions.27

To expand this data, he created what he called "the factual, objective and apolitical" International Barometer. Pagan International wrote to action networks describing the aim of the International Barometer as an aid in "conciliating sometimes conflicting interests and promoting constructive dialogue and relationship between public interest groups and the business community". The groups and networks were offered a free subscription to the International Barometer in exchange for background information on their organisation, the name and telephone number of a contact person, and any future public and media information.28

Promotional letters sent to business organisations, however, described the International Barometer somewhat differently: an instrument which "tracks issues and socio-political movements by the activist groups", contains "news reports to alert readers to the companies and issues bring targeted [and] feature profiles of individual activists and organisations ... from 'public interest groups' to religious organisations". Corporations were told that reading this "ready reference source about activists' funding, affiliations, operations and goals ... as stated by the activists" should give "the lead time for your public affairs and policy managers to do their best job".29

Image Management

If, as a result of 'environmental monitoring' and 'social audits', issues managers assess that a company can no longer ignore a certain issue, they then try to influence public debate on that issue by projecting a certain image of the company; by attempting to prevent key issues from becoming public; and, if the issue cannot be suppressed, by engaging actively in public debate to influence public opinion in the direction desired by the corporation.

PR professionals repeatedly stress that a good public image is a key political resource and that legitimacy and credibility is 'capital' in modern societies. To create and disseminate such an image, various positive stories are circulated about the company itself or the industry sector it belongs to -- even if such stories are fabricated or one-sided.

The baby food industry, for example, claims that its major interest is in feeding children who would otherwise die.30 This claim does not explain why the industry heavily promotes its artificial baby food products to women perfectly able to breastfeed their babies. The ill-health and deaths of millions of babies caused by breastmilk being supplanted is blamed (if it gets mentioned at all) on women's lack of education or unhygienic conditions.

During the 1970s, similarly, international business organisations stressed their concern for people in developing countries; today, at a time of job insecurity in the West after two decades of structural adjustment and free trade policies, the stress is on the myth that industries are the sole 'creators of wealth' which will eventually trickle down to all if markets are deregulated further.31

A corporation's image as a socially-concerned 'corporate citizen' is often bolstered by corporate philanthropy (or sponsorship) and 'dialogues'. Many people or groups which accept industry funds or enter into industry-initiated 'dialogues' believe that they will not be used for a company's political purposes, as long as they maintain their integrity. They believe that being aware of and resisting the risks of being 'bought' or 'coopted' by a company or business organisation is sufficient.

Most are unaware that sponsorship and dialogues can be used for 'image transfer' -- the transfer of the good reputation of the sponsored or invited group, organisation or person to the sponsor or organiser of the meeting. PR practitioners regard sponsorship as a "hard-nosed business decision undertaken ... with the intention of obtaining a proportionate return to the sponsor of the money invested".32

Companies also enhance their image by publicising voluntary codes of conduct as indicators that their manufacturing or marketing practices are in good order, irrespective of what the company actually does and irrespective of whether or not it actually enforces the code. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association, for example, promoted its voluntary code as a "visible, public declaration of the commitment of the industry to ensuring that its products are marketed responsibly and on the basis of sound scientific information and principles".33

Suppression of Public Issues

One of the major activities of issues managers is to prevent certain issues from becoming too public. Secrecy and censorship are routinely employed towards achieving this goal. All kinds of corporate data of public concern and interest are classified as commercially confidential, for example. Some critics have lost their jobs after their employers have been 'approached'; other reprisals have included imprisonment or physical threats.

Journalists and activists are often silenced through the implied, if not open, threat of libel. Nestlé, for instance, filed a libel suit in 1974 against a Swiss solidarity organisation, Third World Action Group, for publishing a booklet Nestlé Kills Babies (the German translation of a War on Want report, The Baby Killer, on infant malnutrition and the promotion of artificial feeding in the Third World). Nestlé later attempted to persuade the group to settle out of court provided that the group apologised publicly, withdrew its statements against the company and destroyed all copies of its publication. The group declined and the trial continued, culminating with group members being given just a token fine. In his verdict, the judge admonished Nestlé to "fundamentally rethink its advertising practices concerning bottle feeding in developing countries, for its advertising practices up to now can transform a life-saving product into one that is dangerous and life-destroying".34

The incident was later described as a "major public relations disaster" for Nestlé, not least because publicity of the trial helped to build up the first Nestlé boycott.35 This is just one instance where corporate PR does not necessarily achieve its goal, largely because those 'targeted' refused to be intimidated.

Even without the threat of libel, the media system as a whole tends to be biased in favour of the interests of the 'powerful'. Because newspapers are dependent on cheap sourcing of editorial content and on advertising, and because ownership of the media and other industries is increasingly interlinked, it is easier for pre-packaged industry PR to make it into the headlines than for critical accounts of industry practices.36

Withdrawing support can also be used to suppress public debates. The US government, for instance, repeatedly threatened to withhold its contributions to the World Health Organisation if it continued to meddle with 'free enterprise'. Thus in 1983 WHO did not publish a study it had commissioned which showed a clear link between the marketing practices of the alcohol industry and a rise in alcohol problems in developing countries; WHO's alcohol programme was subsequently dismantled.37

Manipulating the Public Debate

Despite corporations' best attempts, however, sometimes an issue cannot be kept under wraps or hidden from public view. Issues managers then resort to a mix of four strategies to influence public debates: Delay; Depoliticise; Divert; and Fudge.


Announcements of new, voluntary corporate codes of ethics or conduct are one way of preventing, or at least delaying, tougher regulation of corporate activities.

Just as the Swiss court was investigating Nestlé's libel suit against the Swiss NGO for publishing the Nestlé Kills Babies booklet, for instance, eight infant food companies (Cow & Gate, Dumex, Meji, Morinaga, Nestlé, Snow Brand, Wakado and Wyeth) formed the International Council of Infant Food Industries (ICIFI). One of its first actions was to draft a code of ethics, released with much fanfare two days after the end of the first court hearing.38

Similarly, in 1981, three years after WHO had been mandated to draw up a code of conduct for the pharmaceutical industry, major companies formed the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association (IFPMA) and released a voluntary code of pharmaceutical marketing.39 WHO was pressured to suspend work on its own code; the pharmaceutical industry argued that it had to be given a chance to demonstrate its capacity for self-regulation which would be more effective and cheaper than any other form of regulation. The IFPMA code -- which contained no provisions for proper monitoring and sanctions -- delayed promulgation of the WHO Code until 1987, during which time the pharmaceutical industry weakened the proposed WHO code and limited its scope to marketing issues only; draft versions had also covered registration, distribution and pricing of drugs.40


A second strategy is to depoliticise debates on societal questions by trying to shift the debate either to less politicsed arenas or from political questions to technocratic issues. During the 1970s, for example, when critics had lobbied for and obtained public hearings in the United States on the inappropriate marketing of baby milks in developing countries, Nestlé suggested that discussion on infant formula marketing should be shifted "back to the sphere of relevant government authorities, health professionals and industry experts."41 Its aim was to exclude public interest groups from the debate.

In this instance, the strategy backfired. Although the debate moved from the US to the 1979 WHO and UNICEF Meeting on Infant and Young Children Feeding in Geneva, peoples' organisations as well as industry were invited as equal participants with governments, the first time this had happened at UN level. By the end of the meeting, representatives of the NGOs decided to form the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) which has been active on the baby food issue ever since.42


A further strategy attempts to defuse public controversy by stimulating discussion on issues of secondary importance. This may also give critics the illusion that they are participating in the decision-making process.

One of the clearest examples of diversion comes from the Shell Oil company. In 1987, Shell commissioned an issues management plan from Pagan International because the company was feeling threatened by worldwide solidarity actions aimed at bringing apartheid in South Africa to an end. The 265-page document, the "Shell US South Africa Strategy", provided detailed recommendations on how to engage Shell's critics "in post-apartheid planning" so as to "deflect their attention away from boycott and disinvestment efforts". Different strategies were proposed for different sectors of society: religious and civil rights groups, academics, unions, international organisations and the media. It was suggested that the "danger of ... intellectual legitimacy" being granted to the boycott could be defused by offering sponsorship to critical academics to research post-apartheid problems. The centrepiece of the plan was its religious strategy, which warned that:

"mobilized members of the religious communions provide a 'critical mass' of public opinion and economic leverage that should not be taken lightly ... If they join the boycott and pressure for disinvestment, it will become a radically different and far more costly problem than it now is."43

To discourage religious communities from joining the campaign to end apartheid, a staff member of Pagan International, James Armstrong, who was also former president of the US National Council of Churches, was detailed to contact key figures of the churches personally.44

When the strategy was leaked to the public, Shell's image and credibility were damaged, as was that of Pagan as a 'neutral' mediator between companies and industry critics.

The strategy, however, was a clear application of Pagan's advice to TNCs "to strip the activists from the moral authority they receive from their alliance with religious organizations".


A final strategy consists in pretending publicly to support the demands of critics -- and then spreading a version of the critics' analysis, policy or proposed code of ethics which is slightly but significantly altered so that those unfamiliar with the issue cannot discern easily how it differs from the original.

The baby food industry, for example, has proclaimed its wholehearted support for the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes -- and then insinuated that the International Code is not intended to be universal in its coverage.

Nestlé, for example, claims in its Charter (Nestlé's own policy on the marketing of infant formula) that it complies "with both the letter and the spirit of World Health Organisation's International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes". The Charter, however, describes Nestlé's compliance only to the WHO "infant formula policy in developing countries".45 An easily-overlooked footnote claims that "in developed countries, Nestlé respects national codes, regulations and/or other applicable legislation relating to the marketing of infant formula". The Charter does not mention that most existing national laws are weaker than the International Code. Nor does it mention that baby food companies, under the guise of assisting legislators in the European Union and Eastern Europe, have lobbied actively for national legislation which is weaker than the International Code.

Nestlé has also attempted to turn the International Code into a document legitimising baby food marketing:

"This Code explicitly acknowledges that there is a 'legitimate market' for infant formula. Its aim is to encourage 'safe and adequate nutrition' for infants, not only by the promotion of breastfeeding, but also by ensuring the 'proper use' of breastmilk substitutes, 'when these are necessary', through 'appropriate marketing'."46

Excluding Diverging Voices

Besides attempting to ensure that a corporate version of public issues dominates public debate, engineering of consent attempts at the same time to exclude 'unfavourable' views from the public discourse by neutralising critics. Instead of risking negative publicity, such as Nestlé encountered when it sued the Swiss solidarity group for libel, engineers of consent may prefer to 'neutralise' critical voices rather than silence them. 'Let them talk,' they concede, 'but let's prevent them from influencing public opinion.'47

Two major approaches are generally employed: portraying critics as unworthy of participation in a 'rational', democratic and professional debate; and divide-and-rule -- this often involves inviting carefully selected influential groups and critics to participate in consensus-oriented 'dialogues' (and using their participation for image transfer) while discrediting groups which do not participate as incorrigible 'radicals' who are 'confrontational' for the sake of it.

During the early days of concerted international pressure for industry accountability, 'red-baiting' -- describing critics as communists -- was commonly employed in an attempt to discredit such critics. In 1980, a Fortune editor, Herman Nickel, wrote an article, "The Corporation Haters", which depicted critics as "Marxists marching under the banner of Christ".48

The basis for the article was a "study on the infant formula industry" which Nickel had carried out for the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center -- which had received $25,000 from Nestlé. The Center subsequently sent reprints of the Fortune article (retitled "Crusade Against the Corporations") to 'community leaders' using a Nestlé-supplied mailing list.49

Since the end of the Cold War, discrediting social critics by stereotyping them as Marxists or communists has given way to labels such as 'anti-industry', 'anti-technology', 'anti-progress', 'irrational', 'emotional' and 'unprofessional'. Now that TNCs are often regarded as 'engines of growth' which need, and even deserve, an unregulated global market to create wealth for everyone, it has become easier to assert that anyone who lobbies for any kind of regulation of industry is responsible for job losses.

While such discrediting through labelling is going on, companies invariably refrain from answering the content of the criticisms and from substantially changing their practices.

'Divide-and-rule' strategies are often employed in conjuction with attempts to discredit. In 1989, for instance, when a renewal of the Nestlé boycott was looming -- critics charged that the company was continuing to breach the International Code, in particular, the agreement not to hand out large quantities of free supplies -- Nestlé hired one of the world's largest PR and advertising firms, Ogilvy and Mather, to draw up an issues management strategy.

The focus of the "Proactive Neutralization" strategy the firm came up with was to "identify opportunities for building relationships with individuals and groups that share Nestlé's interests in order to cultivate institutional allies" and to "neutralise and defuse the issue by quietly working with key interest groups". The PR consultants urged that "activities should be implemented as soon as possible in order to most effectively pre-empt boycott activities".50

John Margaritis, then director of Ogilvy and Mather's public relations division, later maintained that the "key interest groups" were "all the groups that had an interest in the boycott". The proactive focus of the strategy to counter the boycott involved finding out the opinion of local church groups before a national church gathering was held to "get some time at the [national] convention to present our own position if we know it's going to be an issue".51

The leaking of Ogilvy and Mather's plan prevented the plan from being set in motion. But a similar PR exercise in the UK persuaded the Church of England Synod (the legislative and deliberative 'parliament' of the national church, comprising over 550 elected clergy and lay representatives) to suspend its support of the Nestlé boycott in 1994.

Towards Transparent, Democratic, Public Debates

To be in a better position to resist corporate attempts to manipulate public debate and engineer consent, corporate accountability activists need to learn how better to distinguish between marketing -- selling a product-- and corporate public relations -- selling industry views (although manipulation is key to both kinds of activities). 'PR literacy' can be increased by reading PR textbooks (in particular, glossaries and sections on issues management and sponsorship) and investigative work on corporate PR strategies.54 Spaces for democratic decision-making can be recovered in various ways:

  • Trying to limit opportunities for industry to gather information on activist plans.

    For instance, activists should ask journalists and others interviewing them about their funding sources and request to see copies of their publications before giving interviews. If they do enter into discussions with industry, they should try to avoid giving away strategic information about their financial and human resources and action plans; they should, however, loudly and clearly voice their concerns about what they regard as the public issue.

  • Unveiling hidden PR practices

    Action groups could set up public data banks on persons involved in 'two-step communication' (the use of third parties, see Box, p.8) 'front organisations' and on corporate-instituted 'grass-roots organisations'. They could try to expose publicly the most influential or consciously-manipulative persons or organisations through their own publications and, if possible, through other media. They could institute an annual competition for the best 'corporate camouflage' of the year (similar to existing awards for the 'top polluter', for instance). Legislation requiring politicians, government officials and health professionals receiving industry funds to declare that they are doing so could increase transparency in public debates.

    Given PR practitioners' vital role in engineering consent to anti-social business practices, action groups could attempt to expose PR practitioners' violations of the various voluntary codes of conduct instituted by major professional PR associations such as the Public Relations Society of America or the International Public Relations Association.

  • Resisting suppression of public issues

    The culture of industry secrecy, mechanisms of censorship and silencing need to be seriously addressed. Health Action International, for example, is currently co-organising a campaign for public access to information underlying decisions giving market approval for new medicinal drugs in Europe. New coalitions are needed to work for national Freedom of Information Acts, and against structural censorship in the media. Groups should do all they can to expose and resist industry attempts to silence critics.

  • Trying not to be used to enhance the image of an industry

    To prevent, or at least limit, being used to enhance a corporate image, professional associations and actions groups should continue discussing all these issues among themselves and establish clear policies on funding. The Indian Academy of Paediatrics, for instance, passed a resolution in 1997 rejecting baby food manufacturers' funding.55 There is a need to explore the long-term structural consequences of NGOs and social and research institutions replacing dwindling public funds with industry sponsorship, which they are under pressure to do.

    Organisations with a high public standing, such as UN agencies and church organisations, should be particularly careful not to let themselves be used for image transfer or to enhance the legitimacy of a criticised company.

  • Resisting corporate attempts to manipulate public debate

    Ideally, this encompasses a dual strategy: publicly exposing attempts to silence, delay, divert or fudge, on the one hand; while at the same time, developing and publicising other analyses and alternative visions, on the other.

    Given their limited financial resources and humanpower, however, action groups often have to decide between these two strategies. Yet greater exchange and new coalitions between industry critics from different movements -- consumer, health, environmental, democratic media, social justice and women's movements, for instance -- may conserve institutional resources.

    Activist cooperation in the formulation and monitoring of corporate codes of conduct should be carefully considered because such involvement can be wasteful of activists' time and effort. As a report on NGO pressure for social accountability of TNCs, commissioned by the UK-based Catholic Institute for International Relations, stressed:

    "The system of voluntary company codes of conduct needs to be questioned from a long-term perspective since it gives in to the TNCs' strategy that aims to keep control of TNCs out of public/governmental hands. It also presents a practical problem: how would thousands of corporate codes of conduct with independent monitoring bodies be followed up?"56

    Organisations which advise action groups to move from 'confrontational' strategies towards consensus-oriented 'dialogues' with industry could learn much from past controversies surrounding the international regulation of transnational business. Action groups, meanwhile, may have more clout by concentrating on public awareness raising or striving for publicly-formulated and -implemented policies, codes of conduct and legislation.

  • Revaluing the role of conflict in the political process

    A WHO scientist has pointed out that industry pressure and the 1978 report North-South: A Programme for Survival from the Brandt Commission have fostered the idea that there is "no contradiction between working for social equity and [working] for an expanding market". Most activists know that this is not the case. As the WHO official concluded, "the tension which is unavoidable because of the contradictory objectives of the actors involved will hopefully continue in the years to come because, if it stops, it means that the interests of the most powerful have won".57 As community organiser Saul Alinksy said, "conflict is the essential core of a free and open society. If one were to project the democratic way of life in a musical score, its major theme would be the harmony of dissonance".58

    Thus conflict and controversy should once again take their rightful place in the political process. Experience so far with industry-initiated 'dialogues' indicates that they bias democratic decision-making. Well-argued, clearly-ascribed, differing positions developed in public, transparent debates or 'interest negotiations' are no less constructive -- and moreover allow citizens to develop their own informed opinion on a contested issue.59

Box 1: Citizens Struggling for Infant Health

During the 1970s, citizens began demanding that transnational corporations (TNCs) show greater accountability and social responsibility.

One campaign was for a code of conduct to prevent the aggressive marketing of industrial substitutes for breastmilk and of other baby feeding products. Citizen groups claimed that artificial feeding was causing the deaths of over a million babies every year, particularly in countries where most people could not afford to buy the quantity of substitute needed for sufficient feeding, or where they did not have access to clean drinking water to prepare the products safely. It is currently estimated that in areas with unsafe water, an artificially-fed child is 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than a breastfed child.

These deaths were regarded as completely unnecessary: in the process of expanding its markets for breastmilk substitutes, the industry had created a culture of bottle-feeding, depriving babies of the ideal baby food -- their mothers' milk. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million lives around the world every year.

In 1977, a US campaign group launched a consumer boycott of the products of Swiss food company Nestlé in protest at what it considered to be the company's harmful marketing of baby milks. Although several companies are involved in the baby food industry, Nestlé was chosen as the focus of the boycott because it had the largest market share.

The boycott gradually spread worldwide. In 1978, at a US Senate hearing on the promotion and use of baby food in developing countries, Senator Edward Kennedy called the boycott a "recognized tool in a free democratic society" and refuted the industry's claim that it was an "indirect attack on the free world's economic system".

As a result of campaign groups' lobbying and after widespread consultation, WHO and UNICEF presented an International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981 to the World Health Assembly, the first UN Code for a whole industry sector, the baby food industry. The Code bans all promotion of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. After 118 nations voted in favour of the Code -- the US was the only country which voted against it -- it was adopted by the Assembly as a "minimum requirement" to be adhered to by WHO member states "in its entirety". Clarifying and strengthening resolutions have been passed by the WHO every two years since 1982.

The consumer boycott was suspended in 1984 when Nestlé agreed to implement the International Code in developing countries and to advocate strong laws in Europe; monitoring indicated that the company had stopped some of its more blatant malpractices. The boycott was relaunched in 1989, however, because of Nestlé's "irresponsible marketing of breastmilk substitutes", according to the boycott coordinating group, Baby Milk Action.

"The boycott focuses on Nestlé because it controls about 40% of the world market in baby milks and uses its influence to undermine controls on marketing activities. Monitoring shows Nestlé to be the largest single source of violations of the marketing code worldwide."

Peter Willets, a lecturer on international relations, regards the politics surrounding the economic and social issues of baby food as equivalent to "the 'high politics' of security, diplomacy and national prestige":

"No doubt some might regard the baby food issue as unimportant. It would be difficult to find an issue more removed from the nuclear arms race and East/West relations than how babies are fed. It concerns women and children and is not of significance to 'real' men. Yet, in terms of danger to human life, which is one of the standards used to assess the importance of East/West relations, baby foods are also important. Misuse of dried milk has almost certainly resulted in a similar number of deaths to those killed in all the wars since 1945."

Since its formation in 1981, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has expanded in size and activities. Today, it comprises more than 150 groups in over 90 countries. It works with other groups and organisations, such as the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and Consumers' International, for the protection and promotion of infant health, not only by working for the regulation of marketing practices of the industry, but also by lobbying for the conditions in which women can breastfeed, for instance, in their workplaces.

Source: Sokol, E.J., The Code Handbook: A Guide to Implementing the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes, International Code Documentation Centre, International Baby Food Action Network, Penang, Malaysia, 1997; Palmer, G., The Politics of Breastfeeding, Pandora Press, London, 1988; Boycott News in Baby Milk Action Update; Chetley, A., The Politics of Baby Food: Successful Challenges to an International Marketing Strategy, Frances Pinter, London, 1986.

Box 2: PR Laundering

Concealment of industry attempts to manipulate public debate is an essential feature of corporate propaganda. A corporate PR campaign designed to engineer public consent to a particular industry's views often tries to hide the origin and true aim of the persuasive message. This concealment can be called PR laundering.

One of the most frequently- employed techniques is to get corporate PR material reproduced as 'factual' articles in the press. Investigative journalist Mark Dowie has estimated that 40% of all US 'news' articles are laundered PR messages.

Another technique is 'two-step-communication'. PR executive Bill Cantor defines this as "persuasion which uses a middle man or opinion leader to influence the masses". Walter von Wartburg, an international communications spokesperson for Novartis (the Swiss pharmaceutical giant formed by the 1996 merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz, which owns baby food company Gerber) suggests that a company should deal with public criticism by providing a "psychological underpinning of [a company's] own statement through third parties which enjoy public trust". Many 'middlemen' -- and women -- may be unaware that they are being used primarily as part of a PR strategy to deflect criticism.

In 1985, for example, Raphael Pagan identified a key feature of his "social awareness strategy" for Nestlé: the creation of the Nestlé Infant Formula Audit Commission (NIFAC), an "independent social audit committee" (granted a regular budget by Nestlé) chaired by former US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. The official task of this committee was to 'monitor' Nestlé's marketing practices (not against the International Code itself but against a Nestlé version of it). Pagan considered it a "major factor in Nestlé's gaining the trust of its more moderate and constructive critics".

NIFAC is still cited today by industry as an example of good PR practice; Novartis's von Wartburg describes it as a notable example of "active agenda setting". For companies on the defensive, it can be useful "to refer controversial critical issues to third parties which enjoy public trust". He contends that this could provide a "legitimate gain of time" and "defuse escalated situations".

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), however, described the Muskie Committee as a tool to "undercut independent monitoring" and an "expensive filter to divert press attention and win away constituencies".

Nestlé disbanded the Muskie Commission in 1991 -- after its return from a fact-finding mission in Mexico which concluded that Nestlé had grossly violated the provisions against free supplies of infant formula. Of the 108 complaints submitted by the British Baby Milk Action Coalition in January 1991 to the Commission, only five were processed before the Commission's dissolution.

Another common veiling technique is to set up a 'front' -- "an organisation established to appear as an independent third party [but actually] supporting the individual or organisation in controversy". Extending this tactic, PR organisations have started to organise corporate 'grass-roots' organisations or movements, a technique known as 'astroturf lobbying'. They have formed 'public interest' groups whose names contain words such as 'fairness', 'balance', 'choice', 'coalition' and 'alliance' -- "all words that resound very positively".

Source: Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine, 1995, p.2; Cantor, W., (edited by Burger, C.,) Experts in Action: Inside Public Relations (second edition), Longman, New York, 1989; von Wartburg, W.P, ("Dealing with public criticism: From defence to a productive assimilation") Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 5/6 June 1997, p.7; Pagan Jr., R.D., "The Challenge to Multinational Marketing: A Public Relations Response", in Denig, E., and van der Meiden, A., (eds.) A Geography of Public Relations Trends, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Public Relations World Congress "Between People and Power", Amsterdam, 3-7 June 1985, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985, p.378; Allain, A., "'Win a battle ... and loose a war ... ': A report on the campaign run by the International Baby Food Network", Challenging Transnationals: And How Transnationals React to Their Critics, International Coalition for Development Action, Brussels, 1983; Henry, Jr, R.A., Marketing Public Relations: The Hows That Make It Work, Iowa State University Press, Ames, 1995, pp.249-254; Baby Milk Action Update, September 1991; Nestlé Infant Formula Audit Commission Report, No 14, 1 May 1991, p.9.

Box 3: 'Dialogues' ... or Intelligence Gathering, Image Transfer, Diversion and Division?

At the 10th Public Relations World Congress in 1985, international PR consultant Raphael Pagan, Jr. drew attention to "more than thirty different codes [of conduct for TNCs] or guidelines being considered [at the UN level]" and to the intention of the International Organisation of Consumer Unions (IOCU) and World Council of Churches "to create a climate of support for national and international regulation".

Pagan considered several industries would be "certain to be at the centre of conflict during the next decade". These included "pesticides and other agricultural chemicals; oil, natural gas and petrochemicals; pharmaceuticals; fast and processed foods; alcoholic beverages; tobacco; nuclear power; armaments and weaponry; news, media and communications; and banking, insurance and other financial services". Pagan warned the audience that, "as the infant formula conflict proved, the marketing practices of no major industry or company are exempt from the politics of confrontation".

To deal with conflict, Pagan formulated a "social awareness" concept, a term he preferred to "issue management".

"If a company opens itself up to dialogue with critics of conscience, seeks support and understanding through openness and dialogue with news media and UN staff members, and acknowledges a broad responsibility for the more remote effects of its marketing practices in the Third World, it can gain respect for its essential decency, legitimacy and usefulness".

This could be seen as a real shift in industry accountability -- if industry practices were to shift accordingly as well. Yet, such 'dialogues', when incorporated into international issues management strategies, are often just one more tool for engineering of consent to socially-unacceptable practices.

Marketing lecturer Craig Smith states that dialogues can be used not only to find out what the problems are and to "comply" with societal demands, but also to fight pressure groups or manipulate the debate.

Smith suggests that, as far as companies are concerned, direct 'dialogue' with pressure groups can be a better tool to assess the extent of the "threat" posed by critics' demands than "environmental scanning", and can also be used to co-opt pressure groups.

Thus 'dialogues' are often anything but straightforward discussions about controversial issues. They can be used to gain intelligence, transfer image and divert attention from more pressing issues.

Action groups should therefore carefully consider whether, when and how to enter into 'dialogues' with a company. To contribute to democratic decision-making, such meetings should be conducted and recorded in a way which is transparent to the public.

In 1989, for instance, when consumers had resumed the Nestlé boycott because the company continued to violate the International Code, the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers proposed a two-day meeting "with the participation of WHO and UNICEF" in order "to resolve the controversy over the free or low-cost supplies of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes in developing countries".

The meeting never took place because most of the organisations invited to attend, such as the World Council of Churches and the International Organisation of Consumer Unions, saw no need for such a meeting. They said that the industry's interpretation of the Code as permission to continue distributing large amounts of free supplies to maternity wards was clearly contradicted by the 1986 resolution of the World Health Assembly. This requires companies to "ensure that the small amounts of breastmilk substitutes needed for the minority of infants who require them in maternity wards and hospitals are made available through the normal procurement channels and not through free or subsidised supplies".

Activists queried why the industry had asked for such a 'dialogue' in 1989 -- after the boycott had been renewed -- but not in 1986 at the time of the WHO resolution. They regarded the request as another delaying tactic.

Indeed, rather than simply ending their 'free supplies' marketing activities, the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers elaborated a statement on how they would work with governments, WHO and UNICEF to end this practice by 1992. Nestlé described these interactions with WHO and UNICEF as follows:

"For the first time, formal international cooperation was initiated between the infant food industry and the leading United Nations' agencies concerned with infant health -- the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF -- in an attempt to resolve the controversy once and for all ... Nestlé will continue to seek solutions, in cooperation with WHO, UNICEF ... health authorities ... health professionals and research scientists which will lead to improved infant and child health".

In the same statement, Nestlé asserted that it had "done everything possible to support the spirit and the letter of the International Code, particularly in those countries where there is high illiteracy and infant mortality" and deplored the fact that "these efforts have been hampered by activist groups which have always placed the most negative interpretation on company initiatives and have consistently promoted confrontation rather than cooperation".

Given the way in which the industry has used UN agencies to enhance its image and given its interpretation of 'appropriate' marketing practices, UNICEF and WHO have limited their interaction with the baby food industry. Yet organisations and groups can be used for image transfer even without engaging in dialogues, as illustrated by documents on Nestlé's website:

"The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that there is a legitimate market for infant formula, when a mother cannot or chooses not to breastfeed her child. Nestlé markets infant formula in conformity with the principles and the aim of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, and seeks dialogue and cooperation with the international community and in particular with WHO and UNICEF, to identify problems and their solutions". (emphasis added)

Source: Pagan Jr., R.D. "The Challenge to Multinational Marketing: A Public Relations Response", in Denig, E., and van der Meiden, A., (eds.) A Geography of Public Relations Trends, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Public Relations World Congress "Between People and Power", Amsterdam, 3-7 June, 1985, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985, pp.374-379; Smith, C.N., Morality and the Market: Consumer Pressure for Corporate Accountability, Routledge, London and New York, 1990; Borasio, P., President of IFM, Letter to H. Nakajima, Director General of WHO, 31 August 1989; Sokol, E.J., The Code Handbook: A Guide to Implementing the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes, International Code Documentation Centre, International Baby Food Action Network, Penang, Malaysia, 1997; "Infant Feeding Controversy", enclosure with NMN, No.36, April 1992; Nestlé web site, December 1997.

Box 4: Withdrawing From Dialogue

The 1994 decision, taken by a narrow majority, of the Church of England Synod to suspend its support for the Nestlé boycott was linked to a new exercise in monitoring the marketing practices of the multinational baby food companies.

The Church of England, together with 26 other church groups, NGOs and academic institutions, formed an Inter--agency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring (IGBM). This group commissioned in-depth research on industry compliance with the International Code in four countries. The research, published in 1997 as the report, Cracking the Code, concluded that:

"many companies are taking action which violates the Code, and in a systematic rather than an on-off manner. It therefore highlights the need for on-going monitoring which is independent of the manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes."

The International Association of Baby Food Manufacturers, however, cast doubt on the validity of the study and attempted to discredit the Interagency Group by labelling it a "self-appointed group". But the International Code expressly states that governments, NGOs, professional groups and institutions have an important role to play in independent monitoring of industry compliance of the Code. IBFAN, for instance, has published regular Breaking the Rules reports -- which industry has repeatedly dismissed as biased.

For nearly a year, the Interagency Group asked the industry to come up with a draft protocol for monitoring worldwide. The industry insisted, however, that it would adhere to national legislation only and that any monitoring of its practices without industry involvement was invalid.

Eventually, the Interagency Group on Breastfeeding Monitoring took an unusual step: in December 1997, it announced that it had decided to "suspend discussions with infant formula manufacturers" until the International Association of Baby Food Manufacturers agreed that the International Code was the "undisputed reference point" for monitoring, not widely-differing, usually weaker or non-existent national legislation.

The Group also pointed out that the industry was perfectly free to monitor for itself adherence to the International Code, stressing that the Code sets out an "independent responsibility for the industry to monitor its own marketing practices".

Source: IGBM, "Cracking the Code: Agencies Suspend Discussions with the Infant Formula Manufactuers", press release, 31 December 1997; IGBM's report Cracking the Code is available, price £6.50, from UNICEF, Unit 1, Rignals Lane, Galley Wood, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 8TU, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1245 476 315.

Notes and references

1 First quote from Mining Journal, 12 September 1997; second quote from Nestlé, Nestlé does not break the WHO Code: So why do people say we do?, 1997, document sent to all members of the Church of England Synod.

2 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, (second edition), Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1988, p.28.

3 William Nielander and Raymond Miller, authors of a 1968 PR textbook, quoted in Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., op. cit, 2, p.10.

4 quoted in Cantor, W., (edited by Burger, C.), Experts in Action: Inside Public Relations (second edition) Longman, New York, 1989, p.389.

5 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., op. cit. 2, pp.3,12.

6 Kunczik, M., Die manipulierte Meinung: nationale Image-Politik und internationale Public Relations, Köln, Wien, Böhlau, 1990, p.1.

7 This is why some communication scientists define public relations as "planned, purposeful communication". See McQuail, D., Mass Communication Theory, Sage Publications, London 1987, p.293.

8 For an excellent introduction and summary to the origins of corporate PR, see Carey, A. (edited by Andrew Lohrey), Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Propaganda in the US and Australia, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1995.

9 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., op. cit. 2.

10 Wilcox, D.L., Ault, P. and Age, K., Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, (second edition), Harper & Row, New York, 1989, p.397.

11 Bernays' PR approach was based on opinion polls, policy analysis and thorough planning. He said that "it is careful planning more than anything else that distinguishes modern public relations from old-time hit or miss publicity and propaganda". See Bernays, E.L., Public Relations, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1952. According to communication scientist Kevin Robins and his colleagues, the rise of public relations and other information industries marked a profound shift in the means of social control from violence and bribery to softer, persuasive means: "Faith in a rational public gives way to the invocation of expertise and to the scientific managmenet of public opinion ... Political rule becomes a matter of social engineering, and the machinery of propaganda and information management becomes all pervasive". See Robins, K., Webster, F. and Pickering, M., "Propaganda, Information and Social Control" in Hawthorn, J., Propaganda, Persuasion and Polemic, Edward Arnold, London, 1987, p.10.

12 quoted in Chetley, A., A Healthy Business? World Health and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Zed Books, London, 1990, p.146.

13 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, (second edition), Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1988, p.79.

14 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, (second edition), Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1988, p.79.

15 Nestlégate: Secret Memo Reveals Corporate Cover-Up, Baby Milk Action, 1981.

16 Pagan Jr., R.D., "The Challenge to Multinational Marketing: A Public Relations Response", in Denig, E. and van der Meiden, A., (eds.), A Geography of Public Relations Trends, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Public Relations World Congress "Between People and Power", Amsterdam, 3-7 June 1985, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985, p.378.

17 Pagan Jr., R.D., "Carrying the Fight to the Critics of Multinational Capitalism: Think and Act Politically", speech delivered to the Public Affairs Council, New York, 22 April 1982, Vital Speeches, Vol.48, No.19.

18 "Nestlé PA strategists form own group", Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter: The Inside of Public Relations, Vol. XVIII, No.2, 1985.

19 Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine,1995, p.53.

20 For details of the baby food controversy, see Chetley, A., The Politics of Baby Food: Successful Challenges to an International Marketing Strategy, Frances Pinter, London, 1986; for the pharmaceutical industry, see Chetley, A., A Healthy Business? World Health and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Zed Books, London, 1990.

21 For a model of "constrained communication", see Mueller, C., The Politics of Communication: A Study in the Political Sociology of Language, Socialization, and Legitimation, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973; for a model of propaganda analsyis, see Jowett, G.S. and O'Donnell, V., Propaganda and Persuasion, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 1986. See also Richter, J., "Public Relations, Politics and Public Pressure: Recovering the History of Corporate Propaganda", MA thesis, Institute of Development Studies, The Hague, 1991.

22 Baskin, O.W. and Aronoff, C.E., Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice, (second edition), Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1988, p.79

23 Pavlik, J.V., Public Relations: What Research Tells Us, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA and London, UK, 1987, p.29]

24 Smith, C.N., Morality and the Market: Consumer Pressure for Corporate Accountability, Routledge, London and New York, 1990, p.274.

25 For the use of paid spies, see "Spies for Hire" in Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., Toxic SLudge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine,1995, pp.47-64.

26 "Nestlé PA strategists form own group", Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter: The Inside of Public Relations, Vol. XVIII, No.2, 1985.

27 Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., op. cit. 25, p.53.

28 Letter from Pagan International to Geneva Infant Feeding Association/International Baby Food Action Network, April 1986.

29 Pagan Jr., R.D., "The Challenge to Multinational Marketing: A Public Relations Response", in Denig, E. and van der Meiden, A., (eds.), A Geography of Public Relations Trends, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Public Relations World Congress "Between People and Power", Amsterdam, 3-7 June 1985, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985. Pagan's International Barometer has been replaced by the International Business Issues Monitor, a magazine published by the New York-based organisation, Global Business Relations. The magazine is designed to "inform its [multinational] subscribers of activities, goals and issues of leading NGOs and international agencies [such as UN agencies and those of the EU] which may impact on their operations". See Fuehrer, A., EMS (European Manufacturers Suppliers), letter to Alison Linnecar, IBFAN, Geneva, 26 January 1998.

30 More recently, it has used feminist language to champion women's right to 'choose' how they feed their babies.

31 At a 1996 meeting of the UN Council on Trade and Develoment (UNCTAD), for example, Nestlé's vice-president Peter Brabeck said that "business and its organisations should not be lumped with the many single-issue NGOs, but accepted as an interlocutor of a different stature, as the engineers of wealth" in a "dialogue for future negotiations about the international framework for doing business". See Brabeck-Letmathe, P., Intervention in panel 1: Trends, policies and interrelationships, UNCTAD High Level Meeting--Global Investment Forum, Geneva, 10 October 1996.

32 Sedgwick, A.R.M., "Sponsorship--the 4th arm of marketing", in Denig, E. and van der Meiden, A., (eds.), A Geography of Public Relations Trends, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Public Relations World Congress "Between People and Power", Amsterdam, 3-7 June 1985, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985, p.397.

33 quoted in Chetley, A., A Healthy Business? World Health and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Zed Books, London, 1990, p.51.

34 Chetley, A., The Politics of Baby Food: Successful Challenges to an International Marketing Strategy, Frances Pinter, London, 1986, pp.44-50.

35 Wilcox, D.L., Ault, P. and Age, K., Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics, (second edition), Harper & Row, New York, 1989, p.423.

36 For an analysis of the US media system, see, for example, Herman, E.S. and Chomsky, N., Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988.

37 Caplan, R. and Malcomson, S.L., "Corporate Assault: Giving the UN the Business", The Nation, 16/23 August 1986, p.111. Frederic Clairmonte and John Cavanagh's Merchants of Drink: Transnationals' Control of World Beverages was later published by the Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia. For other business strategies to 'censor' publications, see Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., "Burning books before they are printed", Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine,1995, pp.5-16.

38 Sokol, E.J., The Code Handbook: A Guide to Implementing the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes, International Code Documentation Centre, International Baby Food Action Network, Penang, Malaysia, 1997, p.7.

39 International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, IFPMA Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices, Geneva, 1981.

40 Chetley, A., A Healthy Business? World Health and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Zed Books, London, 1990.

41 quoted in Chetley, A., The Politics of Baby Food: Successful Challenges to an International Marketing Strategy, Frances Pinter, London, 1986, p.57.

42 Sokol, E.J., The Code Handbook: A Guide to Implementing the International Code of Breastmilk Substitutes, International Code Documentation Centre, International Baby Food Action Network, Penang, Malaysia, 1997, p.9.

43 cited in Bratcher, D., "The Neptune Strategy: Shell battles its anti-apartheid critics", The Corporate Examiner, Vol.16, No.7, 1987, pp.3A-3D.

44 Bratcher, D., "The Neptune Strategy: Shell battles its anti-apartheid critics", The Corporate Examiner, Vol.16, No.7, 1987, pp.3A-3D.

45 See "Nice design--shame about the text: Nestlé's new Charter is not all that it seems", Baby Milk Action, 1996.

46 "Infant feeding controversy", enclosure with NMN, No.36, April 1992, p.1.

47 Edwards Bernays told his 'engineers' to set up files on "opinion leaders", classifying them into "friends", "on-the-fence elements" and "negative elements". The next task was to "induce those holding favourable attitudes to take constructive action". Supplied with regular information by the corporate public relations department, "they may [in time] become a springboard for affirmative attitudes and actions". The remaining challenges were then to "convert disbelievers" and to "disrupt certain antagonistic points of views". See Bernays, E.L., Public Relations, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1952, pp.162,165,177. See also Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine,1995.

48 Nickel, H., "The Corporation Haters", Fortune, 16 June 1980, pp.126-136.

49 The Vice President of Nestlé Ernest Saunders, wrote in a secret memo in 1980, "There must be maximum exploitation of the opportunities presented by the Fortune article." See Nestlégate: Secret Memo Reveals Corporate Cover-Up, Baby Milk Action, 1981, p.3.

50 quoted in Savan, L., "Forget the dead babies: Nestlé PR firm spins feel-good line", The Village Voice, New York, 2 May 1989, pp.14-15. See also Freedman, A.M., "Nestlé rejects militant PR plan to combat renewal of the boycott", The Wall Street Journal, 25 April 1989, p.D6; "Corporate Conintelpro", Harpers, Vol.279, No.1670, July 1989, p.24.

51 "The Ogilvy and Mather flack machine: Interview with John Margaritis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ogilvy and Mather Public Relations", Multinational Monitor, May 1989, pp.22-23.

54 For example, Stauber, J. and Rampton, S., Toxic Sludge is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Maine,1995; and PR Watch, a quarterly newsletter published by the Center for Media and Democracy, 3318 Gregory St., Madison, WI 53711, USA. Fax: +1 (608) 238 2236; E-mail

55 "Indian doctors reject baby food sponsorship", Baby Milk Action Update, No.20, Feb/March 1997, p.6.

56 Vander Stichele, M. and Pennartz, P., Making It Our Business: European NGO Campaigns on Transnational Corporations, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1996, p.47.

57 Brudon-Jacobovicz, P., "Ten years of essential drugs", Presentation to the Panel on Pharmaceutical Policies of the NCIH, Washington, November 1989, pp.4,5.

58 Alinsky, S.D., Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer For Realistic Radicals, Vintage Books, New York 1971, (edition 1989) p.62)

59 If corporations are invited to discuss their role and responsibilities in society, it is important that they are not regarded as corporate 'citizens' -- they are not citizens but powerful, profit-oriented entities.

End Note

This briefing paper was written by Judith Richter. It draws on her MA thesis on the history of corporate PR and a presentation given at the European Regional Meeting of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and NGO Training Seminar on the Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, held in Malta in September 1997.